Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Advancement of Mateo Matic: November 10, 2248

Located nearly twelve light years from Earth, Tau Ceti enjoyed a strikingly high number of low-mass rocky planets in orbit, but only one of them coalesced satisfactorily within the star’s habitable zone. This planet was named Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida, which is Arabic for ostrich egg. Surface gravity was a little higher than Earth’s, but still well within acceptable parameters for an unenhanced human. It had a magnetosphere, liquid water, and oh yeah, a breathable atmosphere. It was the only world within spitting distance known to harbor life on its own, and for that reason, more colonists signed up for the journey than for any other stellar neighbor.
When Leona came back to the timestream, Sanaa was gone, but it looked like she parked The Radiant Lightning in a warehouse. The soothing voice of a young woman she once met was flowing through the internal speakers of the ship, as well as those in the warehouse. As Leona walked towards a small structure built on the floor inside the wide expanse, she could see the broadcaster inside.
But for those of you who don’t dig polka rap, I got somethin’ for ya that I think you’ll really love. This is from a mid twenty-first century Korea twang band called Alliterative Spoonerism. Here’s their most popular single, What Was Jenkem Used for Again? It’s seventeen minutes long, so I can take a break to talk to my friend, who’s visiting from out of town. I’m DJ Mount Alias, and Salmonverse Radio.
Leona stepped into the studio just as Ellie Underhill was finishing her segment. “What is this? You broadcast music across time and space?”
“I do, yes,” Ellie replied.
“How come I’ve never heard it before?”
“It’s geared more towards shapers, or displaced salmon who are on long-term missions. They often need a taste of home, or at least modern life. You’ve not really had much need.”
“How long have you been doing this?” Leona asked.
“From my personal timeline, three years. This region of Bida is fairly remote, so we don’t have to worry about interfering with the colonists.”
“She means me.” It was Paige Turner. She crossed the room from the other door, and presented her hand. “Hi, I’m an alternate version of Paige Turner Reaver-Demir. You can call me Third!Paige, or Trinity.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Trinity. You’re telling me there’s a second Paige out there I’ve also never met.”
“Well, it’s complicated. The three of us met you back in 2025, when you went back in time to save Brooke Prieto from Tribulation Island. It was only after that moment that we split. It’s this whole thing that involves going back in time to stop myself from killing someone, and then going back in time to try again, because I failed the first time.”
“You’ve been here ever since?” Leona asked.
“For the most part,” Trinity replied. “It’s been about two hundred and thirty-five years, but I wasn’t always alone.”
“I don’t know that your math is right,” Leona questioned. “You said we met in 2025, which means you would have had to go back even further—”
“I technically did,” Trinity interrupted. “I can move faster than light, but light moves at a constant. I teleported here from Earth, which is twelve light years away. So when I was looking at Tau Ceti, I was looking at it as it was twelve years prior. I first appeared on Thālith al Naʽāmāt Bida in 2013.”
Leona nodded. This was sound logic. “What have you been up to this whole time, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’ve been terraforming.”
This confused her. “Are you telling me this world is only habitable by your efforts?”
Trinity shook her head. “No, it was habitable, but inedible, and in some places, toxic. I’ve been gradually manipulating the plantlife and water composition to make it so that people can live here carefree.”
Leona didn’t know what to say.
Trinity went on, “you can’t eat everything, but if you do, chances are you’ll be all right. There are no deadly pathogens, or poisonous animals, or anything like that. It’s the closest thing to paradise you’ll find.”
“That’s...amazing. What made you think to do that? And how?”
“I got both the idea, and the technology, from the future. In my timeline, Bida was a terrible place to live. Humans came here with such high hopes, but found themselves profoundly disappointed when they started running chemical tests. Just about everything here would make them sick, if not straight up kill them. All the water had to be filtered to an impractical degree, and it just wasn’t worth it. They abandoned it for centuries until someone got the idea to tailor the ecosystem to human needs.”
“Is that ethical?” Leona asked. “I mean, if life evolved here to be the way it was, did we have the right to change it?”
“It’s not ethical, no,” Trinity agreed. “That’s why I did it myself before a single colonist arrived. That way, vonearthans are free from all moral culpability.”
“Do the colonists know? I mean, I’m sure they don’t realize you exist, but are they aware that the ecosystem was recently altered?”
“Well, they don’t know Barnard’s Star was once orbited by a low-mass rocky planet, so I doubt they’ll figure it out.”
Trinity didn’t elaborate on that bombshell. “It was going to happen. Unethically terraforming a world isn’t the kind of thing the powers that be would have sent a salmon to correct, and it’s not like there are lots of other choosing ones running around making things better. I could have either exercised some futility in an attempt to prevent the vonearthans from manipulating the properties of life on this world, or I could just do it for them, and save their souls.”
Leona realized it wasn’t her job to police the people around her. Choosing ones and humans alike are always going to be running around, making bad choices. As far as questionable ethics went, at least this was in question, and not so undoubtedly wrong. “I understand, and I appreciate the precarious position you were in.”
“And I appreciate that.”
Leona just wanted to change the subject. “Where are Sanaa and Eight Point Seven?”
“They got stuck on the other side of the planet,” Ellie explained. “They were wanting to be here when you returned, but an unexpected storm appeared, and held them up. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine, but they won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“You don’t have emergency teleporters, or anything?”
Trinity chuckled. “Ellie’s broadcast is the only exception to a rule I came up with. There will be no time powers on this planet while I’m in charge.”
“Are you in charge?” Leona questioned. Surely the colonists wouldn’t know that she had been here for two centuries. They would get that she was an upgraded human with an indefinite lifespan, but they wouldn’t understand how she traveled twelve light years in the early 21st century.
“I’m in charge of all salmon and choosers. They’re welcome to come, but they have to follow my rules. I’m not alone in this position.”
“I don’t mean to argue with you, because I’m totally fine with that. I’m just curious what your rationale is. I don’t know what went through in your timeline.”
“Leona, this is an isolate. Did you not know that?”
“It is? No, I didn’t.”
“Yeah, the colonists who are coming here wish to remain separated from Earth, the rest of the stellar neighborhood, and anywhere else in the galaxy the vonearthans end up traveling to.”
“Oh, wow. I try to keep up with current events, but I never heard anything about that.” Leona must have fallen behind.
“The first colonists left in 2235, and arrived this year,” Trinity began to explain. “On the day of that arrival, the last three exodus ships left Earth, bound for Bida. Once they get here in 2260, no one else will come, ever again.”
“They want a fresh start. They’re not going back to pioneer days, or anything, but they’re hoping to free themselves from humanity’s past. They want to live on a world that hasn’t seen bloody wars, and nuclear bombs, and segregation, and all the other bad things we’ve done in our history.”
“They do realize they can’t escape that, right? No matter how far they go, or how much they cut themselves off from the rest of their people, the past will always remain right where it is.”
“They don’t see it that way.”
Leona wasn’t finished, “if they tell stories of the world that came before, it will continue to impact their lives, and if they don’t, it will probably repeat itself. They can’t win.”
“Again,” Trinity argued, “they don’t see it that way. Anyway, I’m not here to judge them, or poke holes in their logic, and neither are you. I’m here to protect them. What they definitely don’t know is that they can’t control what time travelers do. I can. I don’t want any Kingmakers, or Door-Walkers, or Saviors, or Caretakers. The timeline began on Year One, which is 2248 by the Gregorian calendar, and it will not be manipulated, even to save lives.”
Leona suddenly got real nervous. “You didn’t specifically list me and Mateo—partially because we were never given a cutesy nickname—but should we be on it? I came here on a ship built by a human, retrofitted by another human to be essentially faster-than-light. Mateo is on his way here on a different ship, with two other choosing ones. Unlike other salmon, the powers that be don’t give us definitive missions, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them. We weren’t explicitly sent here, but they may want us here, just the same.”
Trinity didn’t know where she was going with this. “What’s your point, Leona?”
“What if I’m here to manipulate time, in my own way? What if Mateo will be coming here for the same reason? What do we do about that?”
“If you’re worried you’re going to break my rules, then you should get back in that thing right now, and leave,” Trinity decided.
“I’m not leaving without my husband.”
“I’ll send him your way. You can go to Glisnia, or better yet; YZ Ceti. It’s only a light year and a half away. He’ll be with you in no time.”
“None of YZ’s planets is habitable enough,” Leona contended. She did keep up with some current events. “And Sanaa doesn’t have the resources to orbit a flare star for years on end.”
“You don’t know that Sanaa would want to go with you. She’s agreed to not use her telepathy.”
Leona took a deep breath. “I suppose that’s true. But I also don’t want to do that. Mateo is coming here, and I’m staying put until he does so. One-point-six light years might as well be a million if something goes with either of our ships.”
“I’m not gonna let you interfere with these people’s lives, or their life choices.” Trinity was starting to raise her voice.
Leona matched the new volume. “I don’t think you have a choice. Just think about what the p stands for in PTB.”
“That’s enough!” Ellie’s voice supernaturally boomed throughout the entire warehouse. “Leona, no one’s trying to keep you from Mateo. Trinity, the rules don’t apply to her, or him. They never have, and you won’t be able to change that. You would have to break your own rules, and use your own power, to have any hope of going against the powers.” She stopped talking for a moment, but it was clear she wasn’t finished yet. “Now. Any two versions of you are friends at any point of time, in any reality. Kiss and make up, and I don’t want to hear any more about this. Que sera, sera. The Bidans will survive.”
“Bidians,” Leona and Trinity corrected in unison.
“There,” Ellie said in relief. “The fight is over. And so is the song, which means I have to get back to work. Trinity, perhaps you can give our new guest a tour of the planet?”
“That can be arranged,” Trinity said.

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